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The House Committee on Ethics released a report last weekend that cast a bad light on the behavior of Rep. Alex X. Mooney, R-W.Va. But before we get lost among the allegations and rebuttals, let’s understand the process.

The House Committee on Ethics is a permanent committee with equal membership from both parties and oversees the ethics of members and staff. Shockingly, partisanship and stalemates occurred.

So, in 2008, an additional nonpartisan administrative Office of Congressional Ethics was established, to receive and review misconduct allegations before passing them onto the House committee.

But the OCE has restraints. It lacks subpoena power, is required to meet strict timelines, and approval of the office’s board is necessary for each step of the process.

Two former Democrat congressmen, a Democrat former U.S. Army brigadier general, a former Republican clerk of the House and two other former Republican congressmen make up the OCE board.

The first step is, the board decides by majority vote that a “reasonable cause to believe allegations” exists to open a preliminary review lasting no longer than 30 days.

To proceed to the second phase, the board must agree by majority that a “probable cause to believe allegations” exists. This second-phase investigation must be completed within 45 days, with the possibility of a 14-day extension, which was used in the Mooney investigation.

Following this second phase, the OCE board must, by majority vote, send the allegations to the House Ethics Committee.

The OCE board did so in this case by a unanimous 6-0 vote and wrote, “There is ‘substantial reason to believe’ that Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., failed to disclose required information in his federal campaign committee filings,” and that there is “evidence suggesting Mooney used campaign money for personal expenses.”

House rules do not set a time for the House Ethics Committee to act — or even require it to act — so the investigation might not go further.

However, understand that the issue is about campaign funds, not government funds. Campaign funds are not allowed to be converted to personal use.

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In late 2018, the congressman, his wife and three children stayed for a “few days” at Canaan Valley Resort, which was charged to the campaign. When asked if this late-December trip was planned around Christmas or New Year’s, the congressman indicated that he intended it as a site visit.

The trip’s misclassification as a campaign expense raised concern that similar trips might have been misclassified.

In May 2020, the campaign was charged $302.10 at Smoke Hole Outfitters for a fishing tour. Mooney provided no receipts or invoices, but stated the charge was for his staff. However, the OCE stated that it appeared no staff members were present.

The OCE additionally reviewed 45 nonitemized lump-sum reimbursements to Mooney from 2017 through 2020 totaling $22,865.05.

Another concern is the frequent purchase of small-dollar meals, especially at fast-food restaurants near the congressman’s home or district office. The report says that, since 2017, Mooney’s campaign made 220 disbursements for $25 or less to food vendors in West Virginia, totaling $3,475,12.

One explanation of a $12.84 meal charge, said, “[Mooney] retrieved campaign mail from the post office ... and stopped at Wingstop afterwards for lunch and to visit constituents.”

Mooney reportedly said he felt justified in charging meals to the campaign any time there are constituents where he happens to eat.

Meals purchased incidental to a campaign event are allowable. However, daily meals not incidental to a clear campaign or political event are not.

The OCE report indicates that Mooney’s office cooperated and took several remedial measures to correct violations and prevent future mistakes during the investigation. “Yet, the nature and overall pattern of the violations raised concerns for the OCE, and some violations remain unaddressed,” the report states.

Are these matters trifling or troubling? It is troubling that any congressman would not understand campaign expenditure rules. Yet, the amounts seem to be so trifling. And that is exactly what is so troubling about it.

Tom Crouser is a business consultant living in Mink Shoals. Reach him at tom and follow

@TomCrouser on Twitter. Also connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.

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